In 1993 there was a heavyweight title fight between Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis.
I remember watching it in the bar at university. There was a point where it became so one-sided against poor old Frank, we all just winced and hoped someone would stop it.
If you want to see what I mean, watch this from 27:50:
When I read advertising articles these days, I sometimes recall this fight.
Lennox Lewis is the rise of ‘big data’, the unassailable supremacy of GoogleBook and the encroaching ubiquity of vocal devices such as Alexa, while Frank Bruno is the sad demise of the traditional creative agency, just standing there helpless while it takes an horrendous beating and waits for someone to throw in the towel.
Too negative? Maybe, but tell me when you last read anything about a wave of brilliant creative work, or increased revenues at DDB/JWT/Leo Burnett.
I’m going to bet it’s been a while.
So we’re screwed, aren’t we? Those of us who value wit and craft over stalking the audience into the arms of ad blockers are really up against it. Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel? When is the white knight going to ride in and slay the apparently invincible foe?
It’s probably best to just curl up in the corner and die; at least that way we won’t waste any more time or energy on a task of utter pointlessness.
Or is it?
When Bill Bernbach first showed up at Grey, advertising was, for want of a better word, shit. It treated its audience as if they were stupid, tasteless and credulous. There was nothing remotely like a VW Lemon, Snowplough or Funeral to offer a glimmer of hope to anyone who wished there could be a better way.
But Bill found it. It didn’t just appear the very next day – in fact it took him about eight years – but he didn’t think the task was hopeless. He stuck to his guns and changed an entire industry, setting off a new perspective that led to Guinness Surfer and Honda Grrr.
And his job was harder. He had to carve a door in a brick wall. There was no frame of reference for him to point at in client meeting and say ‘Look, that worked. We can give you one of those’. He discovered principles and lived by them until the world shifted around him.
We now have decades of proof that the good stuff really does work.
We have years of experience to back ourselves up.
We have thousands of examples of where that wit and craft persuaded people to buy.
It’s just going to take as many of us as possible to dig our heels in, offer something we’re proud of, and persuade people that it’s the way forward for their business.
Every time we give in, we’re making the problem bigger.
Every time we follow Bill, we’re making things better for the entire industry.
And if enough of us do that, maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to be Lennox Lewis again.